One of the last obstacles to the Candidates Matches going ahead in May this year in Kazan appears to have gone, with Teimour Radjabov deciding not to dispute the decision to replace Magnus Carlsen with Alexander Grischuk. He made the announcement in an interview with Teimour Tushiev for Extratime.az.
Radjabov had questioned Grischuk replacing Carlsen in an interview given to Chess-News back in November, after Radjabov finished second in the World Blitz Championship in Moscow. The point was simply that FIDE’s own regulations said that if a player (in this case Carlsen) withdrew after a certain date then his opponent (Radjabov) should advance directly to the second round.
At the time of the earlier interview Radjabov was also reluctant to comment on Carlsen’s withdrawal for the simple reason that it still wasn’t too late for the Norwegian player to change his mind. We now know that Carlsen’s withdrawal is final, and all the other players have signed their contracts. In today’s interview Radjabov, apart from the key announcement that he won’t engage FIDE in a battle, also expresses backing for Carlsen’s decision to withdraw, and gives an interesting explanation of why his own rating hasn’t been higher in recent years.
Radjabov: “I didn’t take on the role of a chess Don Quixote, tilting at windmills.”
Did the past year stand out in any way for you? What’s stuck in your memory?
In sporting terms it went very well for me. Based on my results in the FIDE Grand Prix series 2008-2010, in which I was always among the leaders, I made it into the eight candidates for the World Chess Championship, and that’s a title I hope to fight for. As well as that in the World Blitz Championship, which included all the strongest super-grandmasters, I was only half a point from winning the title – I had to make do with second place and a silver medal, which can be considered a good achievement in itself.
Sticking to the Candidates Matches, you said that you intended to take some sort of action in connection to Alexander Grischuk replacing Magnus Carlsen. Are you still intending to do that or will you prepare for your new opponent, Vladimir Kramnik?
I have nothing but respect for Grandmasters Magnus Carlsen and Alexander Grischuk. I’ve known them for many years and we have a good relationship, which I hope will be maintained in future. The approach of certain FIDE officials to this professional question struck me as a little amateurish. However, the silence and agreement of all the championship cycle participants to the endless changes in the regulations for the Candidates Matches prompted me to stick to the principle that “one’s as good as none” [lit. “alone on a battlefield you’re not a soldier”]. Therefore I didn’t take on the role of a chess Don Quixote, tilting at windmills.
What’s your opinion on the decision of Magnus Carlsen, your former opponent, to leave the World Championship Cycle proposed by FIDE?
I think that Magnus Carlsen was absolutely right to act as he did. He’s number one on the world rankings, he’s won a large number of super-tournaments (often with a big gap over second place), so he has the image of the strongest chess player in the world. The FIDE regulations mean that he’d have to expose his image to great risk, playing only four-game matches against strong opponents, paired off not according to the actual strength of the players at the current moment in time. In such four-game matches the element of chance is dramatically increased. I think it would be fairer to hold a double round-robin Candidates Tournament, in which the randomness of the result would be reduced to a minimum. I think Carlsen would play in such a Candidates Tournament.
If we take it that your opponent in the Candidates Matches will be Vladimir Kramnik, something which everything points to, despite it not yet having been officially declared, how would you characterise the current Kramnik? In particular, he’s begun to take more risks lately. In your view is that a real attempt to change his tactics, or a smokescreen on the eve of the Candidates Matches?
Well, it’s already 99% clear that my opponent will be the Russian Grandmaster Vladimir Kramnik. I prepared for Magnus Carlsen, and now I’ll have to prepare for Kramnik. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were more changes and they gave me another opponent. I’m not planning on any special study of the style of my opponent or on determining his strong and weak points. As the eleventh world champion, Robert Fischer, said: “I don’t believe in psychology. I believe in good moves”. I’m of the same opinion.
Will you play in any tournaments before the Candidates Matches or are you going to prepare for them exclusively? Are you planning on holding training camps anywhere else, perhaps in Kazan itself?
I haven’t yet decided on that. I’m putting together the schedule of tournaments and training camps now.
You’ve been considered one of strongest grandmasters in the world for many years now. You’ve won a large number of medals and titles. You’ve been the 4th and 5th best chess player in the world and been in the top 10. Are you capable of topping the world chess ratings?
Of course that’s my goal, but in recent years it hasn’t been so easy to dramatically increase my rating. The thing is that when I’ve played for Azerbaijan and for club teams I’ve had the black pieces in a majority of those games, in the interests of the team. Playing as Black against strong grandmasters means more intense preparation and a reduction in the chance of winning. My opening repertoire with Black isn’t based on calm equalising systems, but on complicated and risky forced variations aimed at seizing the initiative. All of that demands great expenditure of energy. Look at how many games I’ve played with Black in team events in the last three years, and how many I’ve played with White. The ratio’s about 3 to 1. I think a considerable number of top grandmasters would have suffered heavy rating losses if they’d played so many games with Black.
Besides, I don’t consider ratings an absolute indicator of strength. In my opinion chess ratings are less important than the World Championship title, the number of super-tournaments won, the number of wins against super-grandmasters, and so on. Another indicator of a player’s strength, of course, is consistently being in the top 10, the top 5 or the top 3 in the world rankings. At the moment, however, we’re witnessing a high degree of rotation in the world top 10. A sportsman briefly makes the top 10, but then only a month later he’s down to the top 30 and someone else takes his place. So the correlation between the true strength of a player and his live rating is now quite blurred. That’s how I understand ratings. Many average chess fans, and tournament organisers, are in thrall to the magic of ratings [smiles].
Finally, allow me to take this opportunity to wish all your readers the very best for the New Year!